Bilsham Stores

With yet another piece of Yapton history disappearing under bricks and mortar at the end of Cinders Lane, I felt that I should turn my attention to Cinders Farm. This was a small farm backing on to Cinders Lane. In 1778, Land Tax records described it as "Four acres of land to the north of Sinders Lane". The farmhouse was what is now Bilsham Stores. Seven years later, in 1785, according to the Church Wardens’ Rate Book, it was in the hands of Edward Field. At some point between then and 1825 the ownership had changed to James Skaites Snr. Confirmed by the Land Tax Returns for that year.

By the time the 1839 Tithe Map had been drawn up, what had been the farm seems to have been divided and sold off. The farmhouse was still in the hands of James Skaites Snr. but his holding was described as "Cottage, Yard, Garden and Orchard" covering a total area of one acre and 32 perches with none of the land being farmed. He was also recorded as owning four Tenements and Gardens adjoining his property, now known as "Fry's Cottages". The age of the farmhouse is unknown at present but when studying the roof and its timbers in the loft, it is obvious from the way it has been constructed that it is of great age. There is also evidence that the roof was once thatched. In the large rear garden, there is a buried feature that may have been a lined pit which could have been used for sheep dipping.

From this point ownership of the Farmhouse becomes a little confusing. The Census Returns for the next few decades are a little vague as to what entries apply to which properties. What is certain though are the entries in the 1895 and 1899 Kelly’s Trade Directories which give the occupier as George Chandler and his occupation as Grocer and Dairyman.

This is borne out in the 1901 Census where 53-year-old George Chandler, Grocer, is listed as living there along with his wife, Hester and their 18-year-old daughter, Ethel. Their 17-year-old nephew, Charles Price, is also living with them and is employed as a Grocer's Assistant. Following the death of 77-year-old George in 1925, Hester continued to carry on the business from the old farmhouse, which by then was named Bilsham House.

Bilsham Stores (c.1900)

Some time between the publications of the 1930 and 1934 Kelly's Directories the shop changed hands with William Bissenden being the new Grocer. The next reference to the store was in 1938, again in the Kelly's Directory of that year, when it was owned by Albert Haymes. In an advert for the shop, then described as a Grocers, Drapers and Hardware shop, he claimed it was "The Stores for Value".

Another pair of names appeared on an advert in the early 1950's, that of Albert and Muriel Chilver. Under the banner of Bilsham Stores they advertised themselves as "Grocers, Provision Merchants, Tobacconists and Confectioners". Added to this they were "The Newsagents for Early Deliveries" and their "Perishable food safeguarded by cold storage". They would also accept telephone orders for "Prompt Delivery".

Through the next decade Bilsham Stores changed hands several times before Mrs. Donovan became the proprietress around 1960. She became my first 'boss'. I was one of her paper delivery boys for four years. That was when there were four or five delivery boys required in the morning and one in the evening. She was a jovial 'of fuller figure' (I will risk being accused of not being PC) Welsh lady. The shop itself had the same entrance as today but it was the small front room of the house. The counter was immediately to the left of the entrance door and ran nearly the full depth of the room with a door into the rest of the house behind it. The wall was floor to ceiling with shelves as was the wall to the right of the entrance door. Customers would enter and give 'Mrs. D.' their shopping list (me included with my mother's or grandmother's list) to gather the items listed. Loose items were weighed manually on a set of large scales. All the prices were jotted down as she went while keeping up a constant interchange of village gossip. The final figure was totted up mentally, calculators and automatic tills were unheard of. If the customer could not pay immediately it was not a problem, it was noted in a little book and settled later. Sometimes customers were in need of something after closing time, but 'Mrs. D.' never seemed to mind people knocking on her door and asking for the forgotten items.

This kind of service was soon to come to an end with the advent of self-service stores and Bilsham Stores was no exception. The shop area was expanded throughout the ground floor giving the customers a much larger selection of goods to choose for themselves.

The store has changed hands many times in the past fifty years, with the current owner, David Hughes, having been serving the needs of Yapton villagers since 2002.

Allen Misselbrook
November 2019

(Originally published in Sussex Local Magazine, Arundel, January 2020)